I’ve had years of back trouble, and kayaking has been tough for me to resume.
Currently have several lovely doubles but honestly have not been able to use them at all because I get so uncomfortable in the low back, and then feet get numb, etc.
That is the toughest fit issue. So many variables. It is best to only try one thing at a time. Start with the simplest and least expensive fixes and then go from there if they don’t work. This list is approximately in that order.
From a related earlier question about seat backs I wrote:
"Efficient paddling requires torso rotation which is why most kayaks don’t have tall, stiff seat backs because such back support would interfere with your ability to rotate. Paddling with good posture and rotation will gradually build core strength if you stay with it long enough, but one needs to start with small steps (short trips that end when your back starts to get tired/sore) and gradually build up to longer times and distances in the kayak."
Since you already own kayaks and you used the phrase "resume [kayaking]" I'll skip things like take a lesson to learn good technique.
See if your kayak has the right depth to fit your body. Does the coaming pinch on your thighs (usually in a double kayak the opposite is the problem). If so can you remove a seat pad to lower yourself down. If this is a problem and removing the seat pad doesn’t solve it then you need a different sized kayak. Do you have to use your hip flexor muscles to make your knees contact the underside of the deck? If so try a wedge shaped closed cell foam piece under your thighs or a seat pad to raise you up (see below).
Stretch your back before paddling.
Try tightening the foot braces/rudder paddles. I know it’s your back, but everything is related. Lots of experience paddlers have too loose a foot brace adjustment. If they are loose, you will end up slouching - which feels relaxed at first but will make the back ache after a while especially when paddling. Sit up straight, quit when sitting up gets strenuous.
Add a 1” thick closed cell foam seat pad. If this makes the coaming pinch on your thighs then skip it. In a one-person kayak this may make your kayak feel too tippy, but if you don’t feel tippy then try paddling with it.
Is your seat too narrow? It shouldn’t be pinching on your hips or outer thighs. Redfish Kayaks makes custom foam seats if this is your problem.
Make your own program for getting back into paddling shape. No matter what, kayaking works your core, and muscles will ache until you tone them up for the specific activity you are doing. When I was in my twenties, I skied telemark back-country style all winter and was in much better shape than now. Yet every spring my back would ache after the first two days of sea kayaking; then it would be fine for the rest of the summer and fall. But the next spring it would ache again for the first two days of kayaking. Now I kayak year around and only do a little skiing, and even though I kayak farther and faster than decades ago it doesn’t make my back ache - not even in the spring. Start with however little time you can spend paddling without hurting and gradually work up to longer distance and time in the kayak. Listen to your body and try to increase the workout without causing pain.
Stomach crunches if your PT allows you to
If you have the kind of rudder pedals that slide, upgrade to the “gas pedal” style that tilt to steer the rudder but give your legs a ridged support like the foot braces in rudder-free kayaks. If this was free it would be the first item to try. See the Smart Track Toe Pilot rudder paddles on our website for this upgrade. Allow about 2 hours shop time.
If you had a one-person kayak this would be the time to try other back bands/seat backs. But most tandem kayaks have tall deck heights which limits what can be done. I once had a one-person kayak with a tall deck height (like most tandems) so the seat-back was hinged off the back of the seat bottom and supported with straps near the top similar to the seat-backs in most tandem kayaks. If I paddled that kayak for more than two hours I wouldn’t be able to stand up straight for the rest of the day. There might have been a fix for it, but it wasn’t worth the time and cost so I sold it as is to someone who fit it better. Even with a one-person kayak, changing back supports rarely makes a big difference. An exception might be the custom Redfish Kayak seat which comes with a unique foam seat back that can make a difference, but this is the most expensive option other than buying a new kayak.
Try Physical Therapy or Yoga or Palates with an instructor who will focus on your core and back.
If you are local, you can make an appointment to try sitting in some other kayaks we sell and bring your kayak with you so we can see how it fits you. But we don’t sell tandem kayaks.
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